Traditions do not change overnight; however, girls and women have come a long way when it comes to “Inequality and Women Rights.” Significant changes and improvements have been made over the years, but yes, there is still more room for improvement.
How far have women come?
Traditionally, women were limited to roles within the household; when men went to work, their wives, mothers or sisters spent hour after hour minding the children, cleaning the house, cooking etc. These roles were not given as much credit as they deserved, but one cannot deny the fact that women/mothers served as the backbone of our societies. Women instilled values to their children, and this influenced how children interacted with others in the community, their work ethic and perspectives in life and as a result, having a significant influence on their children’s future success or failure thereof. This has changed, more women have access to education, more and more women are pursuing and succeeding in male-dominated industries, A large percentage of women globally now have a choice of whom to marry, when to marry and when to have children, if at all. Women can say no to female genital mutilation (FGM), child brides have significantly reduced, and many women now have the right to inherit and own property. These are just a few the challenges that women have overcome and are still fighting to overcome in various parts of the world.
Inequality and Women Rights
A report by World Bank (2016), indicates that women represent almost half of the population of the world, 49.6% to be exact, and women are nearly half of the active workforce. Therefore, we cannot afford to ignore the influence and contribution that women bring to the economy.
When it comes to female education rates, progress has been made around the world, and in many countries, girls and young women have outnumbered and outperformed boys and men at all levels of schooling for decades. Nevertheless, these advances have yet to translate into greater equity in employment, politics and social relations.¹
In Japan where, until 20-30 years ago, it was generally unacceptable for women to stay in the office after 5 pm. One ambitious female employee of a foreign multinational dared to hide in the ladies’ room until the men had left before returning to her desk to finish her work. There has been some progress since.² Two women were appointed to head big Japanese companies. Fumiko Hayashi was appointed the Chairman and CEO of Daiei, a troubled supermarket chain and Tomoyo Nonaka, a former newscaster, was appointed the CEO of Sanyo Electric. (The Economist, 2005).
In the UK, a group of businesswomen set up an organisation called Women Directors on Boards (WDOB) aimed at developing solutions to the lack of women as principal board directors. Jacey Graham, the director’s vision was to change the face of UK Public Limited Companies. She hoped to see the almost static percentage of female executive directors in Britain more than double by 2010.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly has been a massive force in fighting for women rights all over the world. Significant progress is evident, however, many girls and women still do not have equal opportunities to realise rights recognised by law. In some countries, women are still not entitled to own property or inherit the land. Social exclusion, honour killings, female genital mutilation, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage among others, deny the right to health to women and girls and increase illness and death throughout the life-course.³
Why do men still dominate senior positions across the globe?
Despite various researchers proving that diversity and inclusion, and female participation in the leadership of companies significantly increases profitability, the level of women involved is still shallow. A study conducted by Catalyst (2004), an organization working towards expanding opportunities for women, found that companies with the most female board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales by 16 % and return on invested capital by 26 %.ª
We cannot deny the fact that some improvements have been made over the last 20-30 years, but men still dominate senior positions, be it in Politics, Fortune 500 companies, and a majority of organisations across the globe. The images below show how far women still have to go in various fields.
Percentage of women board directors in blue-chip companies across the globe
Source: Research Findings by Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Percentage of women occupying parliamentary seats
Source: World Economic Forum
Women business owners as a percentage of all business owners – Top 10 Markets
- Uganda – 34.8 %
- Botswana – 34.6 %
- New Zealand – 33.3 %
- Russia – 32.6 %
- Austria – 32.4 %
- Bangladesh – 31.6 %
- Vietnam – 31.4 %
- China – 30.9 %
- Spain – 30.8 %
- United States – 30.7 %
The contributions made by women to various economies include:
- GDP Growth: McKinsey Global Institute Report (2015), reveals that India one of the most populated countries if they allow women to participate in the workforce on an equal basis as men, 60 percent annual GDP growth rate will be easily achieved.
- Reduced poverty rates: Women are increasingly venturing into business, pursuing careers in male-dominated industries, as well as seeking further education.
- Job Opportunities: More job opportunities, as women start their businesses and create jobs within their communities.
- Reduced illiteracy levels in various communities: Traditionally, especially in Africa and developing countries, husbands were the sole providers, and if the husband died or lost his job, it meant that the children couldn’t attend school due to lack of school fees. This has changed, as more and more women are deciding to pursue their careers/businesses and raise a family at the same time, rather than sacrificing one for the other.
- A Double Dividend: Studies across the world have shown that working women’s children are better fed, better educated, thus building social capital for the economy. This is called a double dividend,” Archana Garodia Gupta, president of FLO, tells CNBC.ª
Main challenges faced by women in the 21st Century
Gender Pay Gap – According to World Economic Forum (WEF), women and men will not reach economic equality anytime soon. This issue affects women all over the world, and WEF states that this gap will not close until 2186.
“The Glass Ceiling” – The term “glass ceiling” refers to the sometimes-invisible barrier to success that many women come up against in their careers. Management consultant Marilyn Loden coined the phrase almost 40 years ago but says it is still as relevant as ever. On May 24th, 2018, “The Glass Ceiling” will be 40 years old? What has changed for the working woman during that time? And what can we do to continue breaking the glass ceiling?
Women Moving Forward
Diversity and inclusion pays. It has long been known that mixed groups are better at problem-solving than like-minded ones. Global competition is forcing businesses and companies to realise that their success is widely dependant on talented people of any gender, race or age.
Women should take advantage of globalisation and learn to decipher the news and social media. Keeping up-to-date with global current affairs is a necessity in navigating businesses globally, it has become a challenge to decipher the news today, and therefore terrorism, illegal migration, cyber-hacking gets much more attention than the opportunities available across borders.
“If you are driven by stereotype-thinking you have got much more to lose than gain in your business/career”
Women should pull other women up. We have always been criticised for being our worst enemies; whether this is true or not, we owe it to ourselves to lend a helping hand to the younger generation. If we do not lift each other up, why do we expect any different from men?
Let us strive to not only break “The Glass Ceiling” but shatter it completely!